Nov 042017

Director: Abhay Chopra
Actors: Akshaye Khanna, Siddharth Malhotra, Sonakshi Sinha
Rating: 3 stars

It’d take a lot of guts to put together a tight-skinned, song-less mainstream film, starring top A-listers, and to top that, begin the picture with a wholly unrelated, trippy, psychedelic, multi-coloured, rotating animation stinging your eyes in a dark hall for almost three minutes at a stretch, even before the frickin’ opening credits have begun to roll! Wait, what was that for? Well, just!

Sonakshi Sinha and Sidharth Malhotra in  a still from the song ‘Raat Baki’

That, incidentally, was Yash Chopra’s Ittefaq (produced by BR Chopra) from back in 1969, starring Rajesh Khanna (at the peak of his career), no less. This is a fun-fact to bear in mind, for millennials who either unfairly believe Yash Chopra was simply the ‘king of romance’, or that experimentation in popular Hindi cinema began with the late ‘90s brat-pack—Anurag Kashyap, etc—viscerally inclined towards the dark side.

This film, produced by Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar, among others, marks the directorial debut of BR Chopra’s grandson, Abhay, and so far as thrillers go, the first thing it gets right is that it packs up in under two hours flat (an hour and 45 minutes, to precise). Which is perfect duration to give the screen your undivided, unwavering attention for a whodunit that otherwise might leave you with more questions than it answers. Before your mind wanders in those directions, you’ve had your fill (of the popcorn and the pic), and you’re good to go.

I’m going to set aside the ItteFAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) you’re likely to have, since that would inevitably mean giving the movie away. Much like Hitchcock’s Psycho, the promotion of this picture itself is pretty much hinged on urging audiences not to reveal the end—it’s the only one they’ve got!

As for the beginning, all you need to know is there’s a cop (Akshaye Khanna, in superb form), looking to solve two murders that ittefaq se, or coincidentally, to the point of disbelief, take place over the same night, and involves one person (Siddharth Malhotra) being present at both crime scenes. The two murders, or if they were even murders in the first place, on the face of it, have nothing to do with each other, except that in one case (a hotel room), a wife is found dead (Malhotra’s), while in the other (a super fancy apartment), a husband (Sonakshi Sinha’s).

Malhotra plays a popular crime-fiction writer, based in the UK. Looking at him, the cop immediately says, “Hey, but you don’t look like a writer.” Well he doesn’t, but then again, who does? He’s a quiet sort of bloke though, at the centre of a murder mystery that, as per diktat, has to be solved in three days, no more. Which is as long as this film needs to pack audiences in theatres and walk away with a hit. Does this movie hit you in the way it should though? Honestly, you wish it wasn’t so overtly production-designed, even sanitized—and there was more ‘Mumbai’ in a movie so ‘Bombay’—for a grimy thriller. But it keeps you thoroughly glued to your seat, and that, for a pay-off, is pretty much worth whatever you paid for.

Thankfully I don’t remember Yash Chopra’s Ittefaq that this is a remake of (poor memory has its benefits). It’s available on YouTube (I rightly stopped right after the pre-movie psychedelia!). It was evidently inspired by a Guajarati play Dhoommas, which in turn was based on the play Signpost To Murder, that had already been made into a film by the same name. Given the number of hands the first script has passed, with sufficient changes made each time (I’m told, in the beginning, there was only one murder, instead of two), it’d be fair to consider this a fully original version by now!

I also don’t remember the last time I watched a full-on, no-nonsense, whodunit Hindi mainstream murder mystery in a theatre, with no way to talk about it but to urge you to see it, because that’s the only way we can discuss it any further. I think you should check it out, just so we can take this conversation offline, to start with!

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